Editor’s Note: Columnist Drew Zahn will be taking a weeklong vacation in early August. This will be the last “Popcorn and a (World)View” column until his return with a new column on Monday, Aug. 16.
What happens to people after they die? Is there any reason to hope?
Hollywood seems to grasp after anything but the truth to answer these difficult questions, and though I commend the makers of “Charlie St. Cloud,” for example, for making a lovely and touching film about the death of a beloved younger brother, no matter how tender, how “nice” or how heartwarming, a fat lot of good the warm fuzzies about death are … if they’re also complete baloney.
I don’t mean to be insensitive about death, but if a man is driving his car straight off a cliff, is it really all that hopeful to tell him a heartwarming story about how he’s really driving into a meadow?
Similarly, even though a movie message about the afterlife may be touching, it can’t instill real hope unless it’s also true. Otherwise, the message simply persuades its viewers to drive off the cliff.
“Charlie St. Cloud” offers moviegoers a sad but sweet story with a few tears along the way, some exhilarating sailing scenes, an uplifting ending and a surprisingly good performance by teen heartthrob Zac Efron.
What “Charlie St. Cloud” also offers, however, is a well-intentioned but pernicious lie about death and life.
In “St. Cloud,” the older brother, Charlie, is mentor and pal to the younger, Sam, who practically worships big bro. Their loving bond is fun, touching and powerful.
But when a car accident claims both their lives – and only Charlie is able to be resuscitated in the ambulance – the loss of Sam drives Charlie to deep despair … until he sees Sam again.
True to a promise made before the accident, the “ghost” of Sam shows up to continue his baseball lessons with big brother Charlie.
For the next five years, Charlie meets his brother Sam in the woods every night to play baseball. All the while, however, the emotionally stunted Charlie cannot truly live, trapped – like Sam – somewhere between death and life.
Enter a young woman in need of help and a few more people trapped between life and death, and the picturesque, heart-wrenching story unfolds as Charlie must make the decision to cling to Sam or live his own life.
The film is filled with references to God (and even Jesus, specifically) and vague references to “the light” or heaven or whatever good and lovely thing supposedly happens after people die.
The problem is, “Charlie St. Cloud” didn’t actually consult God or Jesus or any other potentially knowledgeable authority on the subject before spinning its yarn about the afterlife.
Case in point, a pivotal discussion in which the paramedic who saved Charlie’s life – but who is now dying of cancer himself – confronts Charlie in a coffee shop about why God gave the young man “a second chance.”
“I have no regrets,” the paramedic says. “I have lived a full life.”
Charlie asks the poignant and well-phrased question, “Is that really any consolation?”
Then comes the lie.
“It’s the only one there is,” the paramedic answers.
Really? That’s a common sentiment, the idea that we have simply to live full lives, avoid regrets and trust that after we die it will all be OK.
But what if that’s not true? What consolation is living a full life with no regrets if after you die you’re reincarnated into a cockroach? Or if you’re condemned to hell for eternity?
Don’t give me these warm fuzzies about life after death – these pictures of heaven or white lights or sweet paradise dreams – if you have no idea what you’re talking about.
Again, I don’t mean to be insensitive about death, but if you believe there’s a heaven, where did you get that idea? If there’s a way to be reunited with loved ones in eternity, how do you know that’s not just a crock of wishful thinking?
The truth is, heaven as we Westerners know it is a concept introduced to our social conscience by one source: Jesus Christ. In other words, it’s his idea. If such a place even exists, he would know how to get there, what it takes and what happens when you reach “the pearly gates.”
To say to yourself, “I’ll go to heaven but ignore the way Jesus said to get there,” is not only stunningly illogical, it’s also hypocritical. It’s like supposing you’re playing baseball but ignoring both the rules and the umpires. It makes no sense.
And did Jesus say the way to get to heaven is to “live a full life of no regrets”? No.
I find no “consolation,” no hope in the paramedic’s ramblings about God and death, because it’s clear he doesn’t know the guy and he doesn’t know what’s going to happen when death arrives. Neither is there any real hope in the warm fuzzies of following the light and going to a better place, just because Sam smiles when he finally “gives up the ghost” – pun fully intended – and moves on.
No, the only reasonable and intellectually consistent way to have hope for the afterlife is to learn from someone who actually died and came back to tell us what happens afterward: someone … like Jesus.
And did Jesus say the way to heaven is to “live a full life of no regrets”? No. For what he actually said, read the Bible’s book of John, Chapter 3 (the whole chapter, not just the famous John 3:16).
- “Charlie St. Cloud” contains almost no profanity; only a few choice phrases slip through. Violations of the Third Commandment are completely absent, save for a “Jeez.”
- The film’s violence includes some playful punching between brothers, one definitely not playful punch in a bar, a wrestling sort of fight and a vivid car-crash scene. There is some blood and gore in a few instances, but only for the sake of reality, not shock value.
- The film’s sexuality consists of a lewd insult, a lewd joke, some bar-scene dancing, a bare-chested guy, some kissing and a twilight sex scene in which two unmarried characters are seen smooching and stripping in silhouette, but no nudity or sexual movement is depicted. The characters lie in one another’s arms afterward, clearly implying a sexual encounter.
- The movie has several references to God, religion and even Jesus, specifically. These are casual, common and nebulous references and not “evangelistic” or preachy. As for occult content, Charlie encounters several visions of dead (or nearly dead) people that only he can see and talk to. These are not frightening characters in any way.